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Second Read, Code

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on October 22, 2007 at 11:38:39 am
 

Code, Round Two 

 

Hillary A. Jones

Second Reading of Code, On Trust and Epistemic Responsibility

 

Code notes that epistemologists have “defined ‘legitimate knowledge’ by ‘its rejection of trust’; indeed, ‘trust and authority stand against the very idea of science’ (note 64, refers to Shapin’s Social History of Truth) as the putatively most reliable form of human knowledge” (269).  She acknowledges Quinean naturalism reintroduces some space for responsibility and trust, but does not embrace them and seems to seek to distance itself from issues of trust.  A major part of her project is encouraging epistemic responsibility, though, and so these questions become central for her argument.

 

Code introduces at least seven ways trust functions between doctors and patients.  They include: trusting a physician enough to enter the consulting room, trust in a doctor’s knowledge/expertise/legitimacy, the patient’s trust in her/his own senses and judgment, the doctor’s trust in his/her own knowledge, the doctor’s trust in the patient as narrator, the doctor’s trust in the consultation to uncover signs that will assist in diagnosis, and trust in scientific and medical knowledge as an arbiter of truth (191-192).  Trust reappears in these and other forms throughout the text, although all seven of these are apparent in her in-depth study of Olivieri (267-269 deal directly with trust).

 

Trust, for Code, is essential for epistemic responsibility.  She ties knowledge intimately to the spaces and situations from which it arises; indeed, she contends they cannot be isolated from the “social-political-cultural-ecological situations” (192).  For her, responsible advocacy relies on “trust, sensitivity, and integrity” (196).  Trust becomes a central component for knowledge-making, advocacy, and relationships.  Determining when to trust relies in great part in assessing who, when, and where we encounter knowledge.  Who, when, and where the knowledge is created (and perhaps we should add “for whom?”) is just as crucial (267).  Such trust relies on evaluating credibility of the knowledge, the knower, and the knowledge-generating process (p. 268), which all rely upon rhetorical constructions of credibility. 

 

Code suggests that trust and responsibility are central to her project—they relate to how the “complexity of establishing the public epistemic status and trustworthiness of knowers” carries power.  By introducing humility and honesty (271) into the equation, Code encourages a responsible epistemology that relies upon trust and collaboration.  She maintains that “Responsible, thoughtful practice mitigates against an epistemic chaos where trust could never be rational and where acknowledgement could rarely be justly claimed or conferred” (ix).  Trust is central to epistemic authority’s existence; Code insists that people are “responsible for what and how they know” and they must honor this responsibility to engender the public’s trust (ix).

 

Trust is central to epistemology in ecological thinking, and we have seen trust as important in several of the other books, as with yearning to be with others, group formation and identity mobilization, and a re-valuation of belief.  Trust is important for maintaining relationships, knowledge, and politics. 

 

To discuss: What are some of the other ways we see trust manifest in this argument and the others we’ve read?  What are some of the ways we can apply Code’s emphasis on trust and epistemic responsibility to our own research?  What about our teaching (which is remarkably akin to doctor/patient knowledge collaboration)?

 


 

Code’s Middle Ground Between Generalization and Specificity

Kristin Rawls

 

            In Ecological Thinking: The Politics of Epistemic Location, Lorraine Code navigates a middle ground between what she designates as two epistemological extremes—scientistic positivism and radical constructivism.  In the first chapter, Code posits ecological thinking as a way of bridging this divide in order to make non-reductive generalizations that are sensitive to situated knowledges.  That is, while “ecological thinking…distances itself from quests for a priori or transcendent principles and truths,” the “language of ‘context’ and ‘contextualization’” provides inadequate explanatory power in itself (5).  This approach problematizes the “self-certainties of western capitalism and the epistemologies of mastery that it underwrites” (4) in order to posit an approach to epistemology with more emancipatory potential (71).  Here, I will briefly discuss the argument that Code makes in favor of a middle ground between positivism and constructivism—and also consider some questions that her approach may raise.

            In her discussion of the work of Rachel Carson, Code both demonstrates how her position is informed by the ecological sciences and also makes it clear that she is not proposing a naïve or complete rejection of science.  Specifically, Code explains that she wants to provide a “picture of Carson as epistemologist, whose epistemic-scientific imaginary, rhetorical strategies, and practices of inquiry contrast…with those of a… postpositivist faith in the power of an idealized, monolithic science to explain everything worthy of explanation” (37-8).  Although Carson by no means rejects “careful attention to empirical-observational evidence” (29), Code argues that she demonstrates and advocates for “an intellectual-moral humility in scientistic inquiry” that is attentive to place and rejects epistemologies of mastery.  Ultimately, Code concludes that Carson invites readers “to promote a more participatory, democratic epistemology than the uncontaminated purity of the discourse of mastery can allow” (43). 

            After establishing the usefulness of Carson’s work, Code brings in the work of Karen Messing in order to clarify her position on testimony as a useful source of data for ecological thinking.  Messing’s use of testimony for cognitive research helps Code to set up the ways in which Carson’s epistemological approach leads to “experiential-testimonial evidence of the everyday, down-on-the-ground variety, often dismissed as merely anecdotal” (51).  Code reads Messing’s work to be “marked by an interplay between local hypotheses and empirical generalizations” (53).  She suggests that Messing provides a good example of how “ecological thinking repositions and revalorizes experiential evidence” (52) in order to bring situated—usually subjugated—forms of knowledge into epistemological practice. 

            Here, I want to raise two very different questions about the approach outlined here.  First, I wonder if Code’s model for ecological thinking relies too much on the ability to make generalizations across different locations?  That is, does she ultimately concede too much ground to scientistic positivism?  Code certainly tries to guard against this possibility; in fact, she admits that “the expanded and reconfigured conception of causality that informs ecological thinking can rarely deliver the unilinear, uniform, universal, and immediate causal accounts that…are the hallmark of scientific inquiry” (55).  Given Code’s model, what would acceptable generalizations look like, and how can we be sure that they are fundamentally different from positivist approaches to the creation of knowledge? 

            Second, I want to consider Code’s advocacy for the “revalorization” of local, experiential knowledges.  While it is certainly crucial that testimonial knowledge be integrated and included in scientific inquiry, I wonder if the language of revalorization could lead to epistemological practices that reify the value of testimony?  Can testimony become a foundation, and if so, how might such a development be problematic for emancipatory scholarship?  Code may escape this problem through her careful attention to the importance of honing interpretive skills.  That is, testimonial evidence is not necessarily taken at face value, but must be submitted to careful interpretation that is “closely akin to the interpretive skills exercised in responsibly knowledgeable human interactions” (85).  Ultimately, I would like to consider the specific places where Code’s epistemology might take us in forging new ways of creating knowledge—including the various tensions and problems that may surface through her approach. 

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